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VOIP on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

by John Littler
12/14/2006

I ended my previous article (Linux on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet) by saying that the release of the OS 2006 prepared the way for some serious VOIP work. The 770 can now make SIP-based VOIP phone calls and is more like what you'd expect from Nokia--a phone!

What does it take to upgrade the machine, and how difficult is it? As it happens, not much and not very, but when you're at risk of bricking the machine, there's always a certain level of anxiety.

The first step in the upgrade is to visit the Nokia 770 support site for a Windows download or Maemo's 770 download page for Linux and Mac OS X. Download the new OS. You need to provide the machine number of your 770; the download pages provide instructions on how to find it.

The next step is to do it! On Linux and Mac OS X, connect the 770 to the host machine with the USB cable and run a script while holding down the home button (and possibly your breath, as well). I flubbed my first attempt by letting go of the button too soon. The good news was that the only result was a failure notice on the host machine console:

SW version in image: SU-18_2006SE_1.2006.26-8_PR_MR0
Image '2nd', size 8704 bytes
Image 'secondary', size 87040 bytes
Image 'xloader', size 13824 bytes
Image 'initfs', size 1890304 bytes
Image 'kernel', size 1266560 bytes
Image 'rootfs', size 60030976 bytes
Suitable USB device not found, waiting
USB device found at bus 002, device address 002-0421-0105-02-00
Sending request 0x01 failed: Unknown error: 0
NOLO_REQ_GET_STATUS: Invalid argument
Device status query failed

Holding down the button for the whole operation was the way forward. Here is my success:

SW version in image: SU-18_2006SE_1.2006.26-8_PR_MR0
Image '2nd', size 8704 bytes
Image 'secondary', size 87040 bytes
Image 'xloader', size 13824 bytes
Image 'initfs', size 1890304 bytes
Image 'kernel', size 1266560 bytes
Image 'rootfs', size 60030976 bytes
Suitable USB device not found, waiting
USB device found at bus 002, device address 002-0421-0105-02-00
Found board Nokia 770 (F5)
NOLO version 0.9.0
Sending xloader image (13 kB)...
100% (13 of 13 kB, avg. 385 kB/s)
Sending secondary image (85 kB)...
100% (85 of 85 kB, avg. 765 kB/s)
Flashing bootloader... done.
Sending kernel image (1236 kB)...
100% (1236 of 1236 kB, avg. 796 kB/s)
Flashing kernel... done.
Sending initfs image (1846 kB)...
100% (1846 of 1846 kB, avg. 795 kB/s)
Flashing initfs... done.
Sending and flashing rootfs image (58624 kB)...
100% (58624 of 58624 kB, avg. 598 kB/s)
Finishing flashing... done

Looks, etc.

What you get is an updated interface with more operations available from the desktop.

This is the same process I demonstrated in my previous article if you want to add to the basic Linux install by importing more apps such as the terminal. I'm using it and Joe to write this report (Emacs keystrokes just didn't work out for me on this machine, and I didn't get the hang of the double escapes with Vi either). There is a version of Vim that works quite well, though.

The catalog of apps is fairly similar, except there are some that haven't made it across yet, and some new ones as well.

I should put in a warning here about a theme called LCARS. It's a Star Trek thing, which looks pretty cool. The minus side starts with hard-to-see fonts in daylight. From there, it grew significantly worse on my configuration, with corrupted data files and various apps refusing to start. The problem, I think, is that this theme is very weighty for this machine, and the OS doesn't so far degrade very nicely when it runs out of memory. This only affected runtime files, so an uninstall followed by a couple of reboots seemed to fix everything.

At least, that was true for me on release 1 of OS 2006. The recently released update cured all those problems on my machine. LCARS now runs like a charm and looks pretty good as well.

Another tangent is email. The bundled client is quite OK for dealing with a few emails but it gets old very quickly if you get lots. For example, you can't tag emails so deleting quite a few is a major pain. It won't handle groups at all and GMail isn't all that great, either.

Pine to the rescue! I used to prefer Mutt but it isn't available for this platform, and I'm on the road and don't have a suitable machine to do it myself. Anyway, running Pine on the 770 is way cool. The easiest way to get it is to add http://www.math.ucla.edu/~jimc/nokia770 mistral user to your repositories list, update available packages, and get Pine.

If you're new to Pine, the best way to edit the config file .pinerc is through the internal setup within the program. Be sure to enable the mouse in xterm, as this allows you to tap options on the screen rather than having to drop down the menu item in the improved Xterm that will send a Ctrl signal. Another note: as initially configured, the emails you send will come from User. This is easy to fix. See Jimc's Nokia 770 page for details.

SIP

Without importing any apps, the limit of your VOIP calling is to fellow Gmailers. You're not a Gmailer, you say? Well, as a 770 owner, you already have an account. It's just a pity that the Opera browser shipped with OS 2006 can't fully cope with Gmail. Opera tells me that the next version is better.

Another alternative is to download a client from the Gizmo Project. Once you open the app, you receive 25 cents of free calls if you register. At 1 cent per minute to quite a few places, the rates are quite competitive. Calls to fellow Gizmo users are free. You can also register a normal phone number for your device at Gizmo for $12 for three months. Calling is very straightforward. You put in the number, put the 770 up to your ear, and talk away. Top up your minutes by clicking on "add credit" in the "home" section.

There's also Tapioca, which is "a GoogleTalk client with VoIP and instant messaging capabilities, with a simple user interface. It can be installed on the device without any conflict with the product's built-in Gtalk client."

Another project called Minisip comes from the postgrad students at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. It's quite advanced, but there are no downloads at the moment due to code rewrites.

Asterisk

Finally there's a port of the well-known Asterisk that will do VOIP as well as PABX duties. Getting this on a 770 isn't, at the moment, for the faint of heart though...but if you're a long-term Asterisk user, you won't be faint of heart.

This is what you want, I'm sure. Here's what I did to get a working (as in "non-crashing") version of Asterisk 1.2.1 (the latest release from Digium) on the Nokia 770.

If you're in a hurry or you don't want to mess with compiling and Scratchbox (or you simply don't know what those are), just skip to the binaries.

There are eight steps to go; read more at Installing Asterisk on the Nokia 770.

Note: A point of interest here is that the linked Asterisk Nokia 770 binary includes a SIP client for OS 2005, which might be useful if you don't want to upgrade for other reasons.

The Scratchbox reference means that you first need to install the Maemo SDK. Otherwise, you can pick up toward the end of the instructions and get a ready-made binary, which needs some work to install...

Other Things

There is some interesting stuff coming up with handwriting recognition. At a recent Symbian Smartphone show, I saw both Symbian and 770 demos of vastly improved systems. The one from MyScript recognized whole lines of cursive linked writing rather than just one letter at a time. XT9 also showed an improved version of the current system.

Some people call the 770 "the new Zaurus" but really the only comparison is Linux and the degree of enthusiasm around. Nokia seems fully aware of what it has, which is more than Sharp ever demonstrated, at least in markets other than Japan. Nokia also has the advantage of having much wider distribution channels.

Very special thanks to Gala's fourth-year computer science students at Simferopol University for showing me where to get a WLAN connection for this article. Special thanks as well to Ciaron Linstead in Berlin for extensive use of his network, which allowed me to get Pine working, among other things.

John Littler is chief gopher for Mstation.org.


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